Movie Review: Delirious ‘Tulip Fever’ a Symptom of Madness

Movie Review: Delirious ‘Tulip Fever’ a Symptom of Madness

“I’ve got it!” Dutch painter Jan van Loos (Dane DeHaan) gleefully exclaims halfway through the historical (and hysterical) drama Tulip Fever.

“We’ll put all our eggs in one basket!” (Actual line of dialogue.)

He’s describing his investments in a precursor to the modern stock market: the underground Amsterdam Tulip Exchange, where bulbs and plots of flowers are exchanged in a basement pub. The prices keep going up and up and up, leading to the titular frenzy. 

DeHaan’s artist is playing with funds he doesn’t have to raise enough money to run away with lover Sophia Sandvoort (Alicia Vikander), leading to his ultimate gamble: he’ll invest everything he has into one Big Bulb.

Of course, astute viewers may pick up on one key detail: you don’t want to put all your eggs in one basket. Even Cervantes knew that, three decades before the movie takes place (the phrase originated in Don Quixote.) 

No matter: the entire underground flower market storyline in Tulip Fever is a big long-running joke, and completely inconsequential to everything else that happens in the movie. If you’re wondering why they cast Zach Galifianakis in this 1634-set period piece, well, he’s simply there to deliver the you-have-to-see-it-to-believe-it punchline. 

The plot proper involves Sophia’s efforts to conceive a child with husband Cornelis (Christoph Waltz), a wealthy businessman who rescued her from the life of an orphan into the life of a sex slave and child breeder. And yet, while Waltz’s snobbish walnut trader is certainly no saint, thanks to the actor’s sensitive portrayal he’s the only character here you might feel something for. 

But Sophia simply can’t conceive, despite nightly attempts. And then there’s housemaid Maria (Holliday Grainger), who has conceived a child with now-missing fish monger lover William (Jack O'Connell), who will be fired should Cornelis find out she’s pregnant. Why, whatever will they do?

This a is a movie whose plot revolves around Three’s Company misunderstandings (windowsill glimpses of mistaken lovemaking), insane baby-swapping soap opera subterfuge, and sequences of characters getting so drunk that they instantly lose it all. I will not spoil the climactic bungle, but it’s a you-had-one-job! scene so incredibly protracted that it might leave you yelling at the screen. 

And it was written by acclaimed playwright Tom Stoppard(!), of all people, from the novel by Deborah Moggach (The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel). 

Tulip Fever is a terrible movie, but also a terribly entertaining one, its laughably loony story bolstered by an excellent cast and first-rate production design (those sets and costumes would win awards in a better film). This is the kind of expensive-looking bad movie only Hollywood can churn out.

Among that first-rate cast, Judi Dench shows up as head nun and tulip minder at the local orphanage, and Tom Hollander steals the show as the sleazy Dr. Sorgh. Cara Delevingne has a couple lines as a prostitute and tulip trader; she made the film before she became a blockbuster-leading star. 

Directed by Justin Chadwick, who made the similarly glossy period piece The Other Boleyn Girl, Tulip Fever was filmed a good three years ago in the summer of 2014. Scenes were first screened at the 2015 Cannes film festival, but a 2016 release date was pushed back twice for an eventual late-summer 2017 release. 

The result is a film that lurches in every direction, with rat-a-tat action movie editing (especially during the first act) to match. A shockingly high amount of dialogue has been ADR’d in apparent post-production attempts to salvage something.

And yet, it's nutty enough to be fully enjoyable, despite itself. Tulip Fever can be wholly recommended for anyone of terrible taste.

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